By Sarah Njagi
When he was born 58 years ago, life for David Kipng’etich Towett could only get better.
Kenya was on the brink of independence from Britain colonialists and his father was poised to be one of the founding icons of the new republic.
Dr Taita arap Towett, was one of the first eight African Members of Legislative Council (Legco) and was a delegate in the Lancaster House constitution conference in London, United Kingdom, that ushered in Kenya’s independence.
At independence, Towett was elected MP and served in several ministerial positions under both presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi’s regimes.
At the age of two in 1963, Kipng’etich was taken to the United States where his father was furthering studies. There he started nursery school.
A year later, father and son came back to the new republic, brimming with hope and promise.
Back in Kenya, he was enrolled at the prestigious St Mary’s School, the preferred school for the sons of the country’s emerging political and economic elite.
Among his school mates was Uhuru Kenyatta, at that time the son President Jomo Kenyatta and now serving as the fourth president of the republic. But nothing about Kipng’etich’s current circumstances betrays that privileged start at life.
Looking at him during the interview at his first wife’s house in Sitian village in Chepseon, Kericho county, one would need a lot of convincing to believe Kipng’etich was once Uhuru’s playmate at St Mary’s School or that he started his education at the United States or that his father was once an influential Cabinet minister.
“I don’t know what crime I committed to deserve this kind of life. I pray that this ends,” an emotional Kipng’etich says in the interview. Like his fellow villagers, life for him is a daily struggle to put food on table and send children to school.
One of his biggest regrets is that his daughter dropped out of Moi University, Eldoret, in 2013 while in second year due to lack of fees.
“I still have hope of seeing my daughter graduate and become a secondary school teacher,” says Kipng’etich.
The former son of former Education minister is appealing to his former schoolmate, Uhuru, to help him make his daughter’s academic dream come true.
When Kipng’etich left St Mary’s in 1969 for Elburgon Primary School and later Taita Towett Secondary school — which is his father’s name – his path with that of his former classmate turned-politician have rarely crossed.
But on December 9, 2016 they did, albeit briefly. The President was in Kericho for the opening of the Imarisha Kebbo Plaza on the Kericho-Nakuru highway and Kipng’etich saw an opportunity to reconnect with his former schoolmate.
At the entrance of the Kericho County Commissioner’s offices where the President’s motorcade had stopped briefly, Kipng’etich broke through the security cordon and managed to catch the President’s eye and held a brief chat with him.
But he says he froze when Uhuru directed him to enter one of the escort vehicles. “I got nervous and could not move. The only thing I have to remind me of that brief encounter is a newspaper cutting of a photo of me and the President. I regret not entering the escort vehicles as he had asked me,” said Kipng’etich.
So how did the space between Uhuru’s and Kipng’etich’s paths become so wide despite having started at the same point? Unlike most scions of political families, Kipng’etich appears to have opted for “ordinary” public service and private sector jobs instead of the more lucrative world of business and large-scale farming.
When his father was Education minister, Kipng’etich joined the army where he left after only two years.
“I worked in the Kenya Army for just two years from 1980 to 1982 before I was dismissed. I was an errand person doing menial duties. At the time, my father was the Education minister,” he recalls.
He later worked at tea factories until 1989 when he joined Telkom Kenya as a porter in Nakuru, Kericho and Bomet and left in 1897.
“After leaving Telkom, I opted to become a small-scale farmer but failed and relapsed into poverty,” he says.
A father of eight and husband of two, Kipng’etich says his numerous attempts to seek the help of his father’s political allies and friends including former presidents Moi and Mwai Kibaki have not succeeded.
He also blames his misfortunes on, among others, his father’s death in 2007, in
a road accident. Kipng’etich says that 12 years after Towett’s death, the family has not been able to access his retirement benefits and property.
He says the politician, who had five wives and 32 children, did not leave a will behind.
“We cannot lay a claim to any of my father’s properties because there was no document left behind proving that he was the owner,” said Kipng’etich.
The only thing that Kipng’etich seems to have retained from his privileged past is time consciousness. Like his late father, he is known to be strict with keeping time, an attribute which has earned him the nickname Mapema, Kiswahili for early.
But time has not been kind to Kipng’etich and his family. “One time we had it all but now we have nothing. It has been a fall from grace to grass for us,” he says.